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My Life

July 25, 2001

July 25, [S Club 7, "I Really Miss You"]

Gay boys and teenage girls have this much in common: both take a long time

to get ready to go out, and both love going to malls.

In fact, malls have become the convergence point of modern America: brightly

lit and often discounted melting pots of commerce, cash machines, and culture.

So imagine my surprise at my local mall recently, in suburban Des Moines,

when I saw two 16-year-old boys walking around holding hands. Picking my

jaw up off the floor, I looked around for a camera, thinking there must

be a movie filming. But there was no camera. This was real life.

I shadowed them for a time, thinking they were, by example, making fun

of gay people. But no – as I watched them move in and out of The Gap and

Structure, I could tell the handholding was genuine, and I was awestruck

at the simple act.

They were not alone, but were part of a group of teenagers, mixed male

and female, including at least one obvious heterosexual pairing. They all

laughed together, walked around together, made fun of each other, and shared

both a common voice and common ground. It was a remarkable and moving sight,

and one that I did not expect to see.

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence

post? And isn’t this the generation that is making Eminem a vastly popular

hate-monger?

So many questions ran though my head: Was this an anomaly? Could it be

some extended social science class project? Or have we been Will & Graced

enough to break though some of the last barriers that separate the gay community

from the straight community? Are incoming High School students now so comfortable

being who they are that they will feel no need to politicize themselves

for the cause? Is it simpler to "just do it" than to debate it

forever?

There were other eyes following my two young men around the mall as well,

especially those of older, married couples who did double takes [and in

some cases , triple takes[ at the sight of two 16-year-olds boys doing no

more, or less, then they were doing themselves. I walked slowly and listened

to some of the comments. They were not all positive, yet they were not all

negative either. Said one sixty-ish woman to her husband, "It’s just

like your brother. Let them be happy."

Some people shook their heads as they walked by, while other stiffened

and refused to look at all, but their eyes betrayed them. You could tell

then had noticed and were unnerved by the sight. The boys themselves seemed

oblivious to the ruckus they were causing by just holding hands, feeding

each other ice cream at D.Q., or by holding up a leather jacket to one another

to share opinions on it’s style.

I wondered if they faced persecution by anyone at their school, or if they

surrounded themselves with this small group of friends who understand and

are supportive. How do other boys react? Do their parents know their children

are having a profound impact on people who cross their paths? And do these

boys know what they may have to face in their future by being so completely

honest in the present?

We hear how cool it is to be gay in high school these days, but in fact

thiswas the first conclusive evidence I had seen to support that urban legend.

Maybe it is true. I hope it is.

I lost the group somewhere near Sam Goody, where a sign announced that

MTV was sponsoring a yearlong examination of hate crimes, urging their viewers’

acceptance of other races, religions, and preferences. And it occurred to

me as I stood there in the mall, that we are at a pivotal moment in out

times when a media outlet aimed at youth had the foresight to promote tolerance,

and young people respond with simpler acts of kindness and affection for

one another.

Having been around more teenagers in the last year then I had been for

a few years had been quite enlightening for me, and in mostly a positive

way. For some time I’ve been an advocate of the idea that the current generation

of 16-year-olds is set to take a big step toward compassion for all lifestyles.

Although we aren’t completely there yet, I’m happy to see that those steps

have been taken out of a conceptual stage and into the malls of middle America-possibly.

The most unlikely yet brilliant common battlefield of all.

-Thomas Long

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